When I first listened to “Nina Cried Power” late last year, I could tell that whatever Hozier was cooking was going to be something worth listening to. It wasn’t just that I was excited to hear a new Hozier song, but it was clearly a song meant to impact. Other than being the first taste of new music, it’s the track that ended up opening his new album, Wasteland, Baby!
A lot of people talked about “Nina Cried Power” when it was released, because of how well it captured today’s activist culture – featuring, of course, an activist herself, Mavis Staples. In the description of the music video, Hozier called it a “thank you note to the spirit and legacy of protest.” It’s very fitting as the first track to the album because throughout it, Hozier speaks again and again of the change the world needs to see.
The second track, “Almost (Sweet Music)”, continues the name dropping. Virtually every line refers to a jazz song or artist from the past. “Movement” slows things down a bit, as a low, sultry track about dancing with someone you love. One of the things I love about Hozier’s music is the way his allusions make you feel like he was there when these things were happening. When he talks about listening to Chet Baker, the familiarity and fondness with which he refers to him makes you feel like he and Chet are old friends. The same in “Movement” – you almost feel like he stood by as Atlas was holding up the earth. The way Hozier writes is so timeless and I think that’s one of the things that makes him such a great musician.
In “No Plan”, we swing back around to looking at society as a whole. He talks about how life is what it is – “There’s no plan / There’s no race to be run”, so we may as well take things for what they’re worth and appreciate the beauty in them.
The love songs on this album are truly unique. Where guys like Ed Sheeran have their metaphors down, Hozier zones in on an experience. We see this in “Shrike” and then a little bit later in “Dinner and Diatribes”. Comparing his partner to a shrike, which is a bird that impales its prey on thorns, he sings that he can’t leave, even though he knows that staying will leave him on a thorn. The latter track is about being at a party and deciding that you and your lover don’t want to be there anymore. It’s a really cute track.
“Be” is a track about life. He talks about life from the beginning and how constant his love has been. The world isn’t the kindest place, and Hozier makes a reference to Trump, and says that when he’s reincarnated, he could be one of the refugees at the border, and that those he shuns could be “On TV giving people the sack”. It’s scathing, but he finishes the line by saying that even though the world isn’t as great as it seems, his love will be the thing that lasts the longest.
The album closes with the title track. He sees that society is a wasteland, but that there’s still good to be found. There’s positivity in his relationships, in nature and in just the idea of enjoying what life has to offer. As a whole, Wasteland, Baby! is an ode to the way we live now, crying out that change is possible, and the idea that even though it’s a wasteland, it’s a wasteland with the ones we love.
by Nadia Paiva
Nadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.